|Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid during their 69-run stand in Johannesburg on Friday. At stumps, India reached 156/5. (AP)
Johannesburg: The moment when he had to head for the up-and-down wicket came sooner (4.59 pm local time) than he would’ve liked, but Sourav Ganguly displayed no nerves. That, at least, is the impression one got from the Media Centre.
Still, it must have helped he didn’t have to take guard immediately as successor in the hottest seat, Rahul Dravid, got out on the last ball of the 42nd over. When he did, Sourav took a single off the very first delivery, from good friend Jacques Kallis.
Great for somebody making a comeback after over 10 months. That the fastest South African, 23-year-old Dale Willem Steyn, had gone off with a left leg strain within moments would’ve made Sourav even more comfortable.
Steyn, by the way, may not bowl any more in the first innings.
Twelve balls later, Sourav got his first boundary, beautifully driven on the off-side off Andre Nel. The bowler kept taunting him, but Sourav didn’t allow that to be a bother. Nel did hit him on the left shoulder with an absolute brute, but met no success otherwise.
Clearly, he would be a better cricketer if he concentrated on his bowling instead of exhibiting his vocabulary.
Having come in at a critical moment (actually, one of many on Day I of the three-Test Castle series), it was imperative that Sourav got his eye in and, then, consolidated. The occasional shout of ‘Come on Dada’ would surely have eased the tension somewhat.
It wasn’t only about rebuilding his career, it was about rebuilding the Team India innings after Dravid had chosen to bat. At the end of a day which saw a delayed start, an interruption and ‘early’ finish, Sourav was unbeaten on 14 (72 minutes, 42 deliveries, 2x4) in a total of 156 for five.
Day II, incidentally, is going to begin half-an-hour earlier, at 1.30 pm (IST).
“Sourav showed good application and was composed... I liked the way he batted on a wicket which isn’t easy... We could’ve a Test on our hands if we get at least 275,” former captain Ravi Shastri told The Telegraph.
Coach Greg Chappell, who applauded Sourav on his return to the dressing room, described his innings as a “good effort.” However, in his opinion, “everybody” performed that way. He had special words for Dravid, though.
“The decision to bat was the captain’s... It was a brave one as we had to try and take the initiative to set it up... Rahul showed character and the way he batted (with a finger which had been fractured just weeks ago) was inspiring... It was a difficult first day and with everything that happened, one could never get momentum... One had to grit it out...”
Chappell didn’t look too far ahead. “I don’t have a crystal ball to say how this Test will go, but one partnership can make the difference... We always look to score 350 in the first innings... The bowlers are going to have the upperhand, but the batsmen will also have their moments.”
The coach praised “everybody,” but out-of-form openers Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer wouldn’t be complimented by many. Dravid did put a price on his wicket, as always, but Sachin Tendulkar is the one who looked the best. He got out when it appeared he would slip into the aggressive mode.
Dravid and Sachin added 69 for the third wicket, with Sourav and V.V.S. Laxman putting on 46 for the fifth. The vice-captain had some terrific shots, but got out in soft manner.
Makhaya Ntini and Steyn were expected to snare the big ones, but it’s Kallis who got Sachin and Dravid. Later, he said the wicket wasn’t as quick as they’d expected. “The ball swings in these parts and the faster bowlers are always going to be a much better bet at the Wanderers...”
It’s widely held that Days II and III are the best for batting at the awesome ampitheatre. We’ll soon know whether that needs to be amended.